Glenn Close by Larry Riley/FX
One of the boldest forces in TV drama, the FX network, is at it again. At a press upfront lunch gathering Wednesday afternoon, the risk-taking cable network screened the pilot episode of its much-anticipated new legal thriller Damages, starring Glenn Close. Premiering this July, it looks like a winner, reminiscent of the early days of David E. Kelley's masterwork The Practice, before it descended into grotesque silliness and evolved into the ridiculous, sophomoric cartoon that is Boston Legal.

Damages is a dark melodrama to be sure: tough and gritty, not even pretending to be earnest on the surface, with wild plot twists that make you wonder if there are any heroes in this picture. The closest thing to a truly sympathetic figure is Ellen Parsons (Australian ingenue Rose Byrne), the new not-as-naive-as-she-looks protégé of cunning high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes, played by Close as an elegant tigress who devours rather than suffers any fools in her path. Does Patty see a sharkette-in-the-making in Ellen? Or does she have an ulterior motive for bringing this fresh face into her all-work-no-play boutique? In a show like this, it's always best to suspect that nothing's what it seems. The ambitious, ruthless Patty Hewes looks like she'll be a proud addition to FX's lineup of memorable anti-heroes: Vic Mackey, Tommy Gavin, Christian Troy.

Damages is part of FX's ongoing effort to reshape its edgy lineup to broaden its appeal to women as well as men. FX president/general manager John Landgraf, who introduced the screening, said recent efforts including the critically panned Dirt and the more generously reviewed - though not by me - family drama The Riches have done just that. Look for both of these shows to be renewed in the next month or so. (So much for FX pandering only to the critics.)

Should Damages become the hit it appears to deserve to be, that would make six drama franchises FX is currently juggling, including The Shield (which will return for one final season after the current run), Rescue Me (back in June) and Nip/Tuck (back in September). Add that to limited-run docu-reality show 30 Days and the funky comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (also back in September), and you've got a network on the go.

Landgraf's next challenge: to find a new signature show with male action appeal to replace The Shield in a year or so. That won't be easy, but I can't wait to see what they come up with.